The only thing more frustrating than having to re-clean areas of your home that you are paying a housekeeping service to clean is giving them free advice on how to correct the situation so it doesn’t happen again.
This is what was going through my mind as I continued to scrub the grout lines in our tile shower. In an effort to keep my blood pressure in check and eliminate the need to search for a new cleaning service, I turned my attention toward determining how I could present my dissatisfaction to our cleaner in such a way that a mutually beneficial outcome would result.
A recent conversation with a client of Violand Management Associates who has an excellent reputation for high quality cleaning and housekeeping services came to mind. Each week he would proudly relay the praises of his clients. Finally, I asked him, “John, what makes you so good at what you do?” Without having to give the question an ounce of consideration, he replied, “Our inspections. We inspect every service upon completion, and we have zero tolerance for areas that are missed or overlooked. Our cleaners know that, and they perform accordingly.”
The importance of evaluating the quality of your services was actually part of an article I wrote last fall, where I outlined six steps to quality planning based on Joseph M. Juran’s “Quality Trilogy.” Juran’s universal approach to quality management involves quality planning, control, and improvement. In an effort to solve my dilemma with our cleaner and apply Juran’s principles to the cleaning and restoration industry, I decided to explore the Quality Control phase of Juran’s Trilogy.
If quality is defined as the freedom from deficiencies, we must assume that a certain amount of deficiencies or service quality failures are planned and acceptable from the onset. This tolerance should ultimately fall between the needs and expectations of the customer. Otherwise, the customer would not be willing to pay for the product or service. In the cleaning and restoration world, the result is aged receivables, payment disputes, or, even worse — the loss of referrals.
To ensure the planned quality standard is met, service companies must do the following:
- Evaluate performance.
- Compare actual to planned levels of quality.
- Take action on the variances.
Evaluating performance for service companies starts with inspecting the completed work at regular intervals. Manufacturing companies that mass produce their products accomplish this through random sampling. Cleaning and restoration projects differ because each is unique in a variety of ways. However, there is still enough similarity in the methods of delivery to establish benchmarks for quality that can be examined. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of each project demands that inspections be performed on every job.
While necessary, these inspections come at a cost. There are administrative and management burdens directly linked to monitoring the performance on every job. Throughout my time in the industry I have been fortunate to observe a number of effective methods for conducting such inspections. The most common and cost effective method I’ve found is by using a good old-fashion checklist. These highly underrated forms are powerful tools that can keep everyone in the company on task.
Some will claim they have tried giving checklists to their technicians and performance still falls short of the planned quality standards. This is usually because the checklists are never monitored. Simply providing a checklist doesn’t change performance, monitoring it does. Employees should be required to complete and personally sign each checklist. Management should then monitor the checklists to make sure the work completed matches the established standards. Remember, you should inspect for what you expect.
The evaluation methods you choose, regardless of what they may be, are still simply observations. Those observations must then be compared to the levels of quality that have been established. This requires quantifiable metrics, baselines, and benchmarks. To this day I am still amazed at the overemphasis of the industry on the technical side of the business; talk of moisture and psychrometric readings dominates the landscape. A restorer’s ability to dry a building or to repair it to a pre-loss condition are minimum requirements for admission in this business.
If contractors want to differentiate themselves and grow in increasingly competitive markets, they need to focus their quality efforts on their methods of delivery. They need to measure their quality standards by how fast they dried the building, how well they worked with the customer’s insurance carrier, and how much money they saved stakeholders, not cost them. This is the essence of value, and with value comes profit.
One of the more effective ways of conducting this comparison is through project debriefings. Some will call this a “post-mortem” discussion of the results of the project. Just because the project is complete does not mean it is dead! Take the time to review a completed project, compare the results and quantifiable metrics to your company’s established quality standards, and identify the deficiencies. In doing so you will find the project to be very much alive with many lessons to be learned that can maintain and, in some cases, improve performance.
Taking action to correct variances in the quality standards is something at which most cleaners and restorers excel. They act with a sense of urgency and send the guilty to the gallows. With all suspicion of appropriateness aside, what we observe is punishment of the symptoms without correction of the source of the service failure.
To avoid this common mistake I would recommend companies perform a root cause analysis of the deficiency before taking action. This simple exercise can be completed using a fishbone diagram and the 5 Whys (The “5” in the name derives from an empirical observation on the number of iterations of the question “Why” typically required to resolve the problem.1) This will allow owners and managers to identify and correct the causes of sub-par performance, ultimately minimizing the overall cost of poor quality and maximizing the company’s potential to meet the planned levels of quality necessary to maintain and grow the business.
As for our cleaner, perhaps I need to start with realigning their quality standards with mine. It’s obvious we have a disconnect or I wouldn’t be feeding my obsessive-compulsive personality by re-cleaning my tile for the third time in the last two months. Once my expectations are made clear, I am confident in our ability to implement quality control strategies to yield a more desirable outcome. If not, the next article might be “How to Find Good Help.”
Timothy Hull brings first-hand insight and mastery of large-scale restoration operations to those who face operational challenges in this industry. He is currently a business development advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA) where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA’s services and programs, visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.